Winners Announced for Bank of America Student Voices Essay Contest!
By Lauren Bayne Andeson
After 4,000 essays and a long week of deliberations, we have finally selected our two winners of The Bank of America Student Voices Essay Contest!
The contest asked students to answer the question “What’s the best way a student can manage their money in current economic times?” in 250-350 words. Two awards were given — one to a student in the 3.0-4.0 GPA range and another in the 2.0-2.99 GPA range.
Congratulations to our economically savvy winners: MeganC173 in the 3.0-4.0 GPA range and Rashud T. in the 2.0-2.99 GPA range.
FastWeb’s own Financial Aid Guru, Mark Kantrowitz chose the final essay. He said he chose Megan’s “excellent” essay because, “It starts with a story, grabbing your attention, and is well-written.” He also gave Honorable Mentions to Richard Watt and Sana Asif.
Kantrowitz said the top essays largely focused on several themes which are all solid ways to be more economically savvy. Here are some of the highlights:
1. Psychological tricks to make it more difficult to spend money. These include such advice as paying with cash instead of credit (a credit card feels the same whether you’re spending $5 or $500), using checks or debit cards (or a prepaid credit card) instead of credit cards to prevent spending beyond one’s means, not carrying credit cards with you, having just one credit card, setting up an automatic transfer of income to savings through direct deposit (if the money isn’t in your wallet, you can’t spend it), changing small bills into big bills since you’ll be less likely to break a $50 bill for a two dollar slurpie, working weekends during the school year and full-time during the summer (not only to earn money, but to have less time available to spend money).
2. Focusing on freebies and substituting less expensive alternatives for popular items. This includes attending free events instead of paid entertainment, such as the beach, camping, hiking, jogging, biking, walking in the park, visiting art galleries, spending time with friends, watching TV, borrowing books and movies from the library. Less expensive alternatives include matinee movies, fruit instead of candy or fast food, cutting down the portion size, buying at the grocery store instead of vending machines (pack bag lunches). Buying sensible clothes instead of popular brand names. Eating in instead of eating out. Homemade coffee instead of expensive Starbucks lattes. Less expensive cell phone plan and cutting back on the number of calls and text messages. Reusing a bottle with tap water instead of buying bottled water. Sharing clothing with friends. Use public transportation. Also, buying used textbooks at half price (and selling them back to the bookstore at the end of the semester).
3. Seeking discounts to cut costs. This includes waiting until the item is on sale, buying bargains when prices are low in anticipation of future needs, clipping coupons, taking advantage of student discounts, and shopping at discount stores. Comparison shop and research products before you buy. Work at a popular store in order to get the employee discount.
4. Limit your spending and live as frugally as possible. Don’t spend money you don’t have — spend less than what you earn. Only use credit cards if you can afford to pay off the balance in full at the end of the month. Avoid impulse buys. Institute a mandatory 1-2 day waiting period before any major purchases.
5. Distinguish between needs and wants (mandatory vs. discretionary spending). Either set a hard limit on all discretionary spending, or cut it out entirely. Prioritize your needs and wants so that needs are addressed before any wants. Focus on what is really important. Ask yourself “Can I live without it? Is it really necessary? Will having bought it matter to me ten years from now?”. Discretionary spending includes trendy drinks like Starbucks and Jamba Juice or other beverages, eating out, smoking, clothing & shoes, jewelry, entertainment, junk food, fast food, movies, and other luxuries.
6. Budgeting. This includes both descriptive budgets (where you track how you spend your money in simple categories like clothing, gas, entertainment, savings) and prescriptive budgeting (where you set limits on spending in certain categories such as luxuries and discretionary spending). One possible technique is to set a reasonable but low limit on all entertainment and discretionary spending per week. If you cut it out entirely, you’ll be less likely to comply with the budget. Even just a descriptive budget can help rein in spending, since people rarely realize just how much a latte a day costs per year. Budgeting can also help you save in advance for a large expense, which establishes the good habit of delayed gratification.
7. Save. Pay yourself first by saving before you spend any money. Save at least 10% of each paycheck or other income in a FDIC insured interest-bearing bank account. (Some suggested using an online bank account for a higher interest rate on savings.) Save as much as you can; some even suggest saving at least half your paycheck. Another tip is to establish a rainy day fund of 3-6 months expenses (as opposed to 3-6 months earnings). Some suggest saving a set amount of money per day (e.g., $1 or $2) so that when you forgo a latte, you’re consciously doing it to save. Another good idea is to have a jar or can or piggy bank for all your spare change at the end of the day (also, Bank of America’s Keep the Change program) as an easy way to save.
A few of the essays talked about low interest rates on savings accounts and talked about investing as an opportunity to buy undervalued but high quality stocks.
8. Minimize college costs. This includes applying for scholarships (an obvious ploy because we’re a scholarship site, but still good advice), getting good grades to help win scholarships, minimizing debt, borrowing federal first, moving off-campus to save on living expenses, and using a creditworthy cosigner on private student loans. Also starting off at a community college and later transferring to a four-year college.
9. Get organized. This includes keeping track of student loan debt and setting up a long-term financial plan. Some argued for choosing short, middle and long-term goals. Some recommended the Mint and Wesabi sites.
10. Get educated. Several students recommended learning about finance by reading financial news and finance blogs.
11. Get a job. While many of the essays talked about focusing on schoolwork as the best insurance against unemployment, several students talked about getting a job or creating a job as a way of earning extra money. Several recommended creating a student business such as tutoring or babysitting. Others recommended getting a nearby job to save on fuel and travel time. One recommended holding a garage sale to sell of possessions that are no longer needed.